It was third time unlucky for Liberal Democrat Cllr Ben Chapelard in his bid to cut council allowances by ten percent through an amendment to the budget.
Softening up a sceptical council, dominated by his former coalition partners, Cllr Chapelard said that among the positives in the budget was an ‘attempt’ to balance the books and the freezing of car park charges.
But it didn’t take long for Cllr Chapelard to resume his political raison d’etre, to be a thorn in the side of the Tory council.
The budget isn’t really balanced at all, he said, as it relies on the use of reserves, a situation which has come about through an ‘artificially low’ council tax at a time when the government grant was being halved.
Fortunately, Cllr Chapelard and his colleagues have come up with a partial solution to the problem… cutting councillors’ allowances.
“We cannot support this budget in its current form, not when the only ring-fenced part of this budget is councillors’ allowances. We must all share the pain.”
Defending the status quo was never going to be easy, but Cllr Paul Barrington-King was ready by pointing out allowances had fallen ‘in real terms’ over the past four years.
In addition, a cut may deter those without the financial means standing for election he said, adding: “We do this because we love Tunbridge Wells. I don’t want this becoming an exclusive rich club.
“If you broke down the number of hours of good hard work councillors do and how much they get paid, at the end of the day it certainly isn’t a career move and certainly isn’t for the money.”
Unsurprisingly, his colleagues agreed and the amendment was soundly defeated 40 votes to three.
WHAT ARE THE CURRENT ALLOWANCES?
Borough councillors currently receive an annual basic allowance of £5,500, with cabinet members gaining £11,000 a year, and the leader receiving a sum of £19,250. A ten per cent allowance cut would save the council £36,000 a year.